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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday June 15, @08:58AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the performance-issues-happen dept.

French nuclear firm trying to fix 'performance issue' at China plant

A French nuclear company has said it is working to resolve a "performance issue" at a plant it part-owns in China's southern Guangdong province after an earlier report of a potential leak there.

Framatome, a subsidiary of the energy giant EDF, told Agence France-Presse news agency that it was "supporting resolution of a performance issue" at the plant. "According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters," it said, adding that an extraordinary meeting of the power plant's board had been called "to present all the data and the necessary decisions".

The statement came shortly after the US TV network CNN reported that Framatome had previously warned the US energy department of an "imminent radiological threat" in a letter.

According to CNN, the letter included an accusation that the Chinese safety authority was "raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the Taishan nuclear power plant in Guangdong province in order to avoid having to shut it down".


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  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @09:10AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @09:10AM (#1145431)

    The Chinese Communist Party stated that the source of elevated radiation was a nearby market where villagers trade all sorts of dirty goods.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @04:57PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @04:57PM (#1145583)

      They have Walmart stores in China?

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by looorg on Tuesday June 15, @05:11PM

        by looorg (578) on Tuesday June 15, @05:11PM (#1145592)

        Isn't it more like Walmart is a front for Chinese manufacturing? Is there anything in there that is not made in China (besides the staff) etc?

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @09:16AM (12 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @09:16AM (#1145432)

    I've read about this and there seems to be very little information. The emissions they talk about are from some noble gasses so probably Xenon. This is a normal gas created during fission. The problem they seem to have is that they have more of it than they expect. The main cause of this appears to be damaged fuel -- this is apparently normal to some extent but should not be ignored. When the amount of fission gas exceeds some level, they are suppose to stop ignoring it. The proper solution is to shut down the reactor and then to replace any damaged fuel assemblies. By damaged, I mean like cracked or whatever. But this takes weeks to months to do, you can't just turn it off and on again overnight.

    From what I understand is that the Chinese just raised their release limit and say 'nothing is wrong here, more along'. So of course that raises concerns.

    Now, the request from Framatome and EDF to US have to do with US laws about not using some technology they have to sidestep the issue without either releasing the gas to atmosphere (there is not that much, but it's still there which is not ideal especially since you can avoid it) or shutting down and refueling.

    The concerns here are not that the reactor will blow up or is operated dangerously. The concern is that they are venting radioactive gas unnecessarily.

    If you want a car analogy, it's like you are driving along and your tires are a little low on pressure. Now, you can stop and call roadside assistance and they will add your missing 2psi so you are perfect again but you will be late to work. At the same time you could press a button that will re-inflate your tires for you to perfect pressure but the tech is DRM and not available in your jurisdiction. So now you call the car company to pay the $5 to remove the DRM and inflate your tires, call roadside assistance or run your car less efficiently (pollute more) and spread more tire bits on the road (the tire is used more when underinflated)?

    • (Score: 2) by pe1rxq on Tuesday June 15, @10:26AM (4 children)

      by pe1rxq (844) on Tuesday June 15, @10:26AM (#1145445) Homepage

      Funny that your car analogy totally ignores the fact that the tire is leaking more than normal. All you options are basicly 'lets continue with the leaking tire, what is the worst that could happen'.

      • (Score: 3, Touché) by turgid on Tuesday June 15, @10:28AM (2 children)

        by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 15, @10:28AM (#1145446) Journal

        A blow-out leading to a serious accident, potentially with loss of life.

        • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday June 15, @11:44PM (1 child)

          Which has *never* happened in the nuclear industry. Ever. No, siree.

          (Yes, I'm almost certainly doing the thing that I hate, namely explaining the joke. So upmod parent funny, not me. If that sounds strange to you and you thought this post was funny but parent post wasn't, then (a) evolve a more sophisticated sense of humour, you idiot; and (b) upmod parent anyway, you bleedin' idiot. Unless parent post wasn't subtle humour after all, in which case I expect turgid to chip in with a "what the buggery-bollocks are you blathering about, man?" comment hereafter. In which case upmod me.)
          --
          I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, @01:37PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, @01:37PM (#1145884)

            I don't think GP was trying to be funny. I think he was stating a fact and you gave it a humorous spin (which I liked).

            You know, it's interesting that over the past couple of years, a lot of people have very outspokenly said how safe the nuclear industry is (because all those accidents were either so long ago or the nuke plants that had problems were really old). We need to use nuke energy to save the planet, blah blah blah. Now, in this list of comments, it seems to swing the other way.

            IMHO, nuclear energy can be safe to use in the short term, but we'll never get rid of the human element (and human greed) and to me, that's what makes it so frightening to use in the long term.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:11AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:11AM (#1145454)

        Funny that your car analogy totally ignores the fact that the tire is leaking more than normal. All you options are basicly 'lets continue with the leaking tire, what is the worst that could happen'.

        That's not a correct analogy. A leaking tire gets more dangerous as there is less and less air. This, on the other hand, is not necessarily progressing problem but sub-optimal state. Like they said, it's a performance issue. Basically, it's like you had perfect tire pressure and then temperature dropped by 40 degrees and your tires are running low on pressure. No leak, just needs more air to account for low temperature. And yes, this phenomenon happens all the time in places where temperature drops a lot in winter.

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by khallow on Tuesday June 15, @12:58PM (4 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 15, @12:58PM (#1145469) Journal

      The emissions they talk about are from some noble gasses so probably Xenon.

      If so, looks like it would be Xenon-135 (Xe-135). It's a fission "poison" [stanford.edu], that is, readily captures low energy or "thermal" neutrons to form Xe-136, which normally gets "burned" in the reactor (to said Xe-136, but has complex dynamics [nuclear-power.net] in a reactor that is changing power generation levels). All else being equal, if it is building up in a reactor due to damaged fuel rods or some other cause, they would need to remove the gas (and apparently vent it), else it would eventually shut down the reaction due to excessive absorption of neutrons.

      Glancing at Wikipedia, it appears that the primary decay path of Xe-135 (which has a half life of a bit over 6 hours) is via beta decay to Caesium-135 (Cs-135) which is mildly radioactive (half life of 2.3 million years) and apparently not a significant threat to human health in itself.

      So if this scenario is correct, and not much else is being vented with the xenon, then it and its decay products are probably not much of a danger to the public.

      My take is that the real concern here should be what else are they taking short cuts on? For example, if those fuel rods are damaged/cracked, were they damaged through normal use or some other reason? Are they otherwise doing the proper maintenance and inspections? This may be an indication of deeper problems not just with this reactor, but the entire Chinese nuclear power industry.

      The usual Chinese opacity could be hiding some serious problems.

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Tuesday June 15, @03:25PM

        by HiThere (866) on Tuesday June 15, @03:25PM (#1145531) Journal

        That seems accurate. They could be hiding a serious problem or a trivial one, and there's no way to tell which. This is to be expected in a bureaucracy where face-saving is very important. (The Chinese aren't the only practitioners of this ... process.)

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      • (Score: 2) by Rich on Wednesday June 16, @03:12AM (2 children)

        by Rich (945) on Wednesday June 16, @03:12AM (#1145748) Journal

        To my understanding (I might be wrong), the zirconium tubes in which the fuel pellets are kept are hermetically sealed. Xenon-135 would not be vented at all, but go through the decay process and end up as solid. Certain reactors of eastern european origin had obscure entries in their manual that the reactor should not be re-started after a shutdown until after a waiting period (i.e. the xenon decay is over), and when some guy orders to ignore that, for example to repeat a safety test, shit can happen. There is no deliberate Xenon venting to accelerate the wait.

        The industry eventually figured out that fuel elements DO break, not very often, but often enough, so they use scavengers to get the nasty stuff out of the primary coolant. As I read and understand the almost nonexistent press information, they have seen a lot more xenon than they have expected. Apparently they also reduced the power output. Putting one and one together, I assume they figured out that the fuel elements break at full load and came up with an engineering calculation how far they can push it. I would assume there is a predetermined breaking point for overpressure, so they might have hit that. If it is something else, it is bad. Control/safety rods might get stuck, which wouldn't mean an immediate meltdown, but they'd have to inject boric acid for a safety stop, and then the plant would be down for a major overhaul.

        Also, this is all French technology. But I've been wondering why the EPRs at Olkiluoto, Flamanville, and Hinkley Point are major screwups, while Taishan went up on schedule. If the Chinese can ask Areva/EdF to straighten that out, that might cost the French more than they have. Then they'll demand nuclear subsidies from the EU, which might make people on course for the next German government VERY unhappy....

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday June 16, @12:41PM (1 child)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday June 16, @12:41PM (#1145863) Journal

          Xenon-135 would not be vented at all, but go through the decay process and end up as solid.

          Not quite buying that. In a normally operating reactor, Xe-135 would absorb a neutron and become Xe-136 which is also a gas. If enough of that builds up, then your hermetically sealed fuel rods will rupture. But those rods get replaced regularly so I don't see it as a problem.

          But I've been wondering why the EPRs at Olkiluoto, Flamanville, and Hinkley Point are major screwups, while Taishan went up on schedule.

          Looks like we have the answer to that. Because the Chinese are a bit more cavalier about such things like safety (and have a far weaker anti-nuke lobby).

          If the Chinese can ask Areva/EdF to straighten that out, that might cost the French more than they have. Then they'll demand nuclear subsidies from the EU, which might make people on course for the next German government VERY unhappy....

          Demanding something doesn't mean you'll get it. And China isn't operating in a way to minimize the cost of the resulting mess - that reduces any liability for France. They'll have a weak case for making demands, particularly, if the expertise and resources for cleaning up the mess has to come from outside China.

          Certain reactors of eastern european origin had obscure entries in their manual that the reactor should not be re-started after a shutdown until after a waiting period (i.e. the xenon decay is over), and when some guy orders to ignore that, for example to repeat a safety test, shit can happen.

          I don't quite understand the dynamics, but it sounds like you can get into some serious trouble when you do a quick restart after shutting down a reactor. In the few hours after the reactor is shutdown, Xe-135 would build up due to decay of other isotopes (which have a short half life as well). So you would temporarily have elevated levels of Xe-135 in the fuel rods.

          Because Xe-135 is a strong fission poison, you have to run the reactor at significantly higher power (well, denser configuration of fuel rods) than normal in order to get the same level of fissioning - because the Xe-135 is absorbing a lot of the neutrons you would need to maintain criticality. Then once enough of the Xe-135 burns off (gets converted to Xe-136 by neutron absorption), the reactor will suddenly revert to normal criticality behavior with a substantial surge in power.

          Maybe modern military nuclear reactors are designed to accommodate high Xe-135 operation (because you could be very dead, if you have to wait six or more hours to restart your nuclear reactor), but I doubt there are any civilian reactors designed for this sort of power surge, because you can save a lot of money and engineering by never operating the reactor in that way.

          • (Score: 2) by Rich on Wednesday June 16, @01:21PM

            by Rich (945) on Wednesday June 16, @01:21PM (#1145877) Journal

            I followed up, the tubes definitely should be fully sealed:

            https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/18811248.2010.9711953 [tandfonline.com]

            Money quote:

            The sealing process of end caps to cladding tubes is a fundamental part in the design and fabrication of nuclear fuel elements. In order to
            prevent the escape of fission products and to maintain a good in-reactor performance of nuclear fuel, it is necessary that cladding tubes containing pellets should be hermetically sealed. Cracks in the end cap weld of the heat-affected zone (HAZ) in a reactor have been found to be related to incomplete welds and power ramp.

            This is for a CANDU, but I assume PWRs are not much different. PWRs also run at much higher pressures (300 bar), so a tiny bit of temporary gas buildup is completely irrelevant to the zircaloy tubes, even more so than in CANDUs. It seems the endcap sealing is a science in itself, so it's a good bet they assume these problems have to do something with those.

            Demanding something doesn't mean you'll get it.

            Haha. You have no idea how much German taxpayer money went down the drain to make issues go away, even when someone just was loudly whining. And when the French want the Germans to pay for their atomic mess, some green-aligned German heads will explode. They'll probably do a backroom deal and allow the ECB to "print" a few billion € for the French. (I'm simplifying, it's not called "print"ing anymore, I think the latest term was "quantitative easing").

            Because Xe-135 is a strong fission poison, you have to run the reactor at significantly higher power ...

            This is designed in. The relevant discoveries about Xe-135 behaviour were made at Hanford (iirc, the Rhodes book is really good, they wondered why the reactor suddenly stopped) and Chernobyl (they wondered why the reactor suddenly blew up).

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:26PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:26PM (#1145501)

      > I've read about this and there seems to be very little information.

      So... move along, nothing to see here.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:33PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:33PM (#1145689)

      A better analogy would be a fouled catalytic converter. It doesn't affect the safety of the vehicle but it does cause unnecessary pollution and thus is in violation of the law.

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by Runaway1956 on Tuesday June 15, @09:44AM (3 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 15, @09:44AM (#1145437) Homepage Journal

    This is the land of the CCP. Chairman Xi will issue a directive, ordering the wayward reactor to conform to Party expectations. Problem solved.

    --
    Make an actual interesting, germane, and relevant point and you may get away with Flamebait - 'Zumi
    • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:28PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:28PM (#1145504)

      Oh so you *do* recognize gas-lighting!? Fake news China hoax antifa agitators.

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:42PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:42PM (#1145538)

        Most people recognize humor. Pull that stick out of your ass, and you could maybe grin, if not actually laugh.

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by DeathMonkey on Tuesday June 15, @06:22PM

      by DeathMonkey (1380) on Tuesday June 15, @06:22PM (#1145615) Journal

      "Oh Bother!" said Xi, licking some errant honey off his directive writing pen.

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by turgid on Tuesday June 15, @10:26AM (3 children)

    by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 15, @10:26AM (#1145444) Journal

    This is irresponsible, bordering on reckless, behaviour. They're operating a nuclear reactor with defective fuel cladding resulting in fission products leaking into the core and primary coolant. When nuclear fuel fails, it usually starts with a very small defect, a pinhole, which is fine for a short time. Eventually, it fails catastrophically. Nuclear reactors are built with detectors in the primary coolant circuit for fission products. When a fuel failure is detected, you must replace the defective fuel. Some nuclear reactors (Magnox) were designed to facilitate on-load refuelling, so failing fuel could be replaced fairly easily. Water-cooler reactors need to be shut down, flooded, the top removed and then the fuel discharged. This is obviously expensive and inconvenient, but it is absolutely necessary. PWR fuel is built to very high standards such that failed fuel should almost never happen. Revising the off-site release limits to cope with failed fuel is ignorant, lazy, stupid and cheap. In fact, it's criminally negligent.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:11AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:11AM (#1145453)

    So the fuel rods were all 'Made in China'?

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:16PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:16PM (#1145474)

      No... They were made in USA at the NSA facility explicitly for use China. Hint hint, nudge nudge

  • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:23AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @11:23AM (#1145456)

    A boatload of glow-in-the-dark children's toys.

  • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Tuesday June 15, @11:31AM (2 children)

    by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday June 15, @11:31AM (#1145460)

    I understand that these discussions can get embarrassing, but as a nuclear power plant ages, it's common to have performance issues. Thankfully, with modern assistance, those issues can be corrected, and the plant can have a normal, healthy, active half-life. *

    * side effects include cancer, regime change, and mass death

    --
    The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:29PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:29PM (#1145533)

      ... but as a nuclear power plant ages, it's common to have performance issues.

      From The Guardian article

      Powered up in 2018, the Taishan plant was the first worldwide to operate a next-generation EPR nuclear reactor,

      So it's about 3 years old. How old does it have to be to expect performance issues? Is it beyond the no quibble warranty period where they'll just replace it with a new one?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @07:33PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @07:33PM (#1145640)

      side effects include cancer, regime change, and mass death

      Just in Hong Kong.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Snospar on Tuesday June 15, @11:31AM (4 children)

    by Snospar (5366) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 15, @11:31AM (#1145461)

    Didn't Homer setup a nodding toy to click "Y" on his keyboard in response to the "Vent Gas? [Y/N]" prompt? Sounds like something has fallen onto the "Y" key; easy to fix.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by looorg on Tuesday June 15, @01:41PM (2 children)

      by looorg (578) on Tuesday June 15, @01:41PM (#1145484)

      He did, season 7 episode 7. Homer is tired of his job at the nuclear plant, so he cracks the brilliant idea of becoming Orca fat so he can get disability and work from home. But being at home gets boring so he sets up the drinking bird to automate his work so he can go the the cinema during the afternoon. Unfortunately for him the bird falls over and disaster at the plant is imminent ...

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:32PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:32PM (#1145508)

        Then the President raises the vent limits and all's fine?

        • (Score: 2) by looorg on Tuesday June 15, @04:13PM

          by looorg (578) on Tuesday June 15, @04:13PM (#1145560)

          As I recall it there is a leak at the plant and Homer with his new extra fat body plugs the hole in the reactor and saves the plant and the town and everyone is happy. Except Marge that doesn't like her new extra large hubby so she asks Mr. Burns to pay for the medical procedure to return him to his normal size. Which he does since Homer saved the plant. Something along those lines.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @04:47PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @04:47PM (#1145578)

      It's China. It probably takes two shift keys and Alt+Meta+Cokebottle to enter a "Y"

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by crafoo on Tuesday June 15, @12:31PM

    by crafoo (6639) on Tuesday June 15, @12:31PM (#1145465)

    I expect the thoughtful and wise leaders of China will handle this will all of the wisdom, respect for life and environment, and careful engineering practices they used to build and maintain The Three Gorges Dam project.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:33PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:33PM (#1145479)

    Just get the war started already.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:07PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:07PM (#1145521)

      I still prefer Bomb Iran, much catchier. Why haven't we done this yet?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:27PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @03:27PM (#1145532)

      Just get the war started already

      They can easily turn into hot wars

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:37PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:37PM (#1145483)

    If people have to go months without AC people will die. They could close factories instead.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @05:49PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @05:49PM (#1145601)

      Same here: who could go months without AC posting a single comment?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @10:14PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @10:14PM (#1145672)

      If there's no power, many of the factories would be closed anyway?

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:51PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @01:51PM (#1145492)

    the main problem with chinese philosophy might be that it has problem with our western axiom of "learn from failure".
    if you can't admit failure, duh, you cannot learn, thus there remains only "copy tried and working".
    i think it's a real problem.
    copying technology kindda requires to at least try to emulate the philosophy that birthed it?
    being opaque about results didn't get us to where we are?
    " failure" seems to be "absolute" thus very shameful, thus has to be hidden?

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:38PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, @02:38PM (#1145510)

      It leads to the state where everyone is supposed to pretend the boss is competent. Sound familiar? Even in "the west" it's the default state. And we almost always reward that behavior. There's the gap - that "almost". That's what you've got to work with in "the west".

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by HiThere on Tuesday June 15, @03:30PM

      by HiThere (866) on Tuesday June 15, @03:30PM (#1145534) Journal

      Unfortunately, that axiom is far from being widely practiced in the west, also. The suppression of "learn from failure" is almost universal when those running a study/technology/science are not skilled practitioners of that particular study/technology/science. If they can't understand what they're managing, they need to use some other crude metric, like, say, lines of code.

      --
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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, @05:31AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, @05:31AM (#1145774)

    And now this.

    Convenient that it happened in China, instead of one of their own plants.

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